The European Union on Thursday closed a last loophole in its ban on shark finning, the long-contested practice of fisherman slicing the fins off and then throwing the still live sharks back overboard to die.
The EU banned shark finning in 2003 but special permits still allowed some fisherman to "process" the sharks they caught on board, with the fins and body then being landed together at one port or separately.
However, in practice, this exemption had "cast doubts on the effectiveness" of the controls on finning and the scientific management of shark populations, EU ministers said in a statement.
Accordingly, ministers—with the exception of Portugal's representative—endorsed plans to end the exemption "so that sharks can only be landed with their fins attached."
This policy would enable the EU to be "in a better position to push for shark protection at international level," the statement said, reducing the scope for fishermen to mis-report their catch.
Ministers stressed that sharks, skates and rays are "very vulnerable to over-exploitation owing to their life-cycle characteristics of slow growth, late maturity and small number of young."
EU fishermen land about 100,000 tonnes of shark and skate, caught worldwide, each year.
Shark fins, usually made into a soup, are a delicacy in Asia where soaring demand is blamed for putting shark populations under huge pressure.
Humans kill about 100 million sharks each year, mostly for their fins, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, which says 90 percent have disappeared over the past 100 years.
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